Giving feedback on another's performance and behaviour at work - both positive and negative - is probably the most simple and cost effective means of improving performance. Yet commonly L&D professionals report a reluctance in management and staff to engage in feedback. At the same time UK employees report not receiving enough of it. We know that giving feedback should not be restricted to the annual performance appraisal meeting. In high performance company cultures, giving and receiving feedback constructively is a normal part of the working day. So how can managers and teams be encouraged to do more of it?
External coaching is usually favoured for leaders and senior managers. Survey respondents gave their principal reasons for choosing external coaches as:
The challenge for all businesses to be able to attract and retain the best people they can is well known and much talked about. Many firms turn to their relatively low staff turnover or the number of applicants to their recruitment initiatives and conclude that all is well. But is this right?
Not infrequently we work with people on development programmes and workshops who, to put it charitably, are not exactly 'on fire' with enthusiasm for their job or their firm. Most of them are not doing a poor job but they are not performing anywhere near as well as they could be - meaning that both firm and lawyer suffer. They frequently feel stuck and undervalued in the role and would prefer to be doing something different – or differently. This is not where optimal performance or job satisfaction comes from. From the wider business perspective this also creates vulnerability; the risk of good people being poached by other firms - always a concern - becomes greater.
What does it take to attract and retain good people who are committed and perform well?
Back in 2014 I published a post about myth-busting, Learning Styles and Other Myths in response to seemingly endless adverts and articles from trainers, consultants and dare I say it, other coaches, promoting the great virtues of VAK learning styles. These promoted, in a seemingly authoritative factual manner, the importance of determining people's learning styles in order to support their development effectively. Endless books, training courses and assessments followed in organisations and schools around the country as people became swept up in the fad. VAK learning styles are not only inaccurate, with an extensive body of evidence to debunk this particular myth, but can actively impair effective learning.
Legal careers are changing. The pace and nature of client work, the impact of new technology, global markets/Brexit, diversity targets and career aspirations are leading to changes both in opportunity and expectation for lawyers.
One of the principal benefits of coaching programmes is the provision of space and time for the coachee in which to learn and reflect. This can be particularly valuable during periods of change.
There is strong evidence that executive coaching is valuable in helping people deal with the uncertainty and challenges of change - whether organisational change, career change, life transitions, etc. Such change is the "new normal" and there is a growing expectation that people should possess the flexibility and resilience to cope with such change. For this reason, enhancing resilience and well-being in organisations is increasingly important.
For both providers and consumers of executive coaching, keeping abreast of market trends can help to benchmark services and understand the market.
The Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey published earlier this year provides some summary headlines on the global demand for executive coaching. These report on findings from 65 countries across all continents. Key findings include:
Essentially, and incontrovertibly, leadership makes a difference to company performance. When market and resource opportunities are scarce this impact is significantly amplified.
In the Borderless 2016 Leadership Development Survey, 54% of those polled considered that leadership development in their organisation was ineffective and nearly a third (29%) were unaware of any leadership development coaching or mentoring initiatives at all.
The global leadership selection and consultancy firm Borderless has just published its global survey of 1,000 senior executives on leadership development.
Using the respondents' definition of leadership ("the act of taking ownership for business results delivered by people"), the report "supports a call for a more balanced approach to leadership development, which stands on two pillars: the development of skills to visualize, plan and monitor business results, and the development of interpersonal (‘people’) skills to deliver them".
Accordingly the survey asks respondents to assess the effectiveness with which these skills and attributes are developed in organisations. The findings present a mixed, and in parts troubling, picture.
Top Leadership Challenges
Respondents were asked to list their top three leadership challenges of 2016. The most common were:
In response to these, the top 6 leadership skills they considered to be required to lead organisations and meet these challenges effectively were:
They all relate to inter-personal effectiveness and the balance required to be struck between these soft skills and business acumen. To be effective leaders, these skills need to be developed and given the opportunity to be practiced and fine-tuned.
However, many respondents considered that their organisations lacked a focus on leadership development and considered it merely as "nice to have" rather than a strategic imperative. They reported that their organisations tended to hire in leadership skills in senior executives from outside rather than growing and advancing these skills from within the organisation. This over reliance on 'hiring in' can be significantly demotivating to those with leadership potential who may see the lack of promotion opportunity as compounding the lack of development provision.
Of those organisations providing leadership development, two-thirds of leadership development participation is optional. In few other professions would it be considered acceptable that people may occupy senior positions in organisations - responsible for profitability, growth and jobs - without the skills development that accompany them.
Successful Leadership Development
So what do these senior executives consider is necessary for effective leadership development?
In the first place, and consistent with other surveys of this type in recent years, the majority (56%) consider that support from top management is a critical success factor in effective leadership development in organisations. Importantly they comment that this should not just be "parked in HR". Supporting this they consider that there should be an organisational focus on people and talent management in the organisation and sufficient resources allocated to it.
80% of those surveyed report that coaching is effective in leadership development but that there is room for improvement. Nearly a third of organisations had no coaching or mentoring support in place at all for leadership development and surprisingly only 36% used external coaches or a mix of internal and external coaches for this work. The need to use better qualified and more experienced coaches was identified. In particular, in order to enhance the quality of tomorrow's leaders, leadership development programmes should be grounded in real-life work (and should not just comprise additional tasks for busy executives to complete).
The Borderless report, 2016 Survey of Leadership Development, is available in full here.
Gloomy reading from HR Magazine which recently reported that in 2015 34% of UK employees could not think of one occasion on which they felt motivated at work. The top motivators were said to be a good work/life balance (45%), a credible and motivating boss (25%), and a supportive and motivating team to work with (19%).
The difficulties with such studies is that whilst they are interesting and provide some useful pointers, they blur levels of meaningful detail which in this case relate to individual difference. It is a simple fact that people are different - they are motivated by different things and at different times. Their needs are different. Whilst 45% of respondents might have said that a good work/life balance was their main motivator, what that means will vary for all of them (and of course 55% didn't report it as their main motivator). We should also probe whether such external factors are actually motivating ones. Work in the area would suggest that they aren't. It is most likely to mean having control over working hours/location and flexibility.
In motivational science terms, the aspect of control is the most important feature. Unfortunately, the kind of approach reported seems to imply that people are a passive lump to which things can simply be done in order to achieve a different outcome. This thinking is probably at the heart of most disengagement and lack of motivation among people!
To enable people to do their best we need to engage with them (with each other!) as unique adults who have potential, and work with them to understand their drivers, values and needs. In collaboration, employer and employee may then create an optimal working arrangement.